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Friday, January 02, 2015

Warner Western Out Of Lower Drawer


Raton Pass (1951) Done While Cooper-Flynn Busy Elsewhere

Modest Warner western that fed off carrion from Dallas. Nice enough sets should be reused where you virtually remake a yarn, but so soon? Ranch takeover as theme was a WB concern in 1951 --- were the Bros. sensing outside encroachment on their Burbank domain? (if so, they were right, and what it was, among other things, was television) They were losing their theatres thanks to gov't mandated consent decrees, and were forced by '51 to cheapen product so that a Raton Pass resembled more a typical "B" from wartime's long-gone boom. Westerns were still a surest thing across industry board, ones with Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott a best of any bet, but so long as a Dennis Morgan or even Gordon MacRae could sit a horse, they'd too earn contract pay in chaps from time to necessary time. For Morgan it was needed transition. He'd been in reasonably popular musicals, but not lately, and his comedy-song series with Jack Carson had played out. Westerns would have to be  his salvation or finish.


Everyone at WB was eventually tested in the saddle, especially leading ladies. The shop was not unlike Republic in that sense, actresses dreading the day when they'd be tabbed as cowboy consort, worst of it the knowing that no career advance could come of work in the sort of westerns done by Warner. Maybe that was to keep them from going too proud. Patricia Neal had been tabbed a "New Garbo" at contract's beginning, but would ride into Warner sunset with Raton Pass. It would be her last under contract with them. Those still-warm Dallas sets included a hacienda courtyard and nice interior, plus, of course, western town with saloon fronts and sheriff's office. Monogram would have flipped for background like this. Westerns at WB were formula purely meant to be so, with no ambition beyond. Think of outstanding ones from the 50's past a trio with John Wayne (Hondo, The Searchers, Rio Bravo) --- are there others? What Raton Pass didn't retain from Dallas was Technicolor. Negative cost was $768K to $1.3 million for Dallas, with resultant rentals (worldwide) at $1.3 million for the former, $4.4 million for the latter. That's the difference Cooper and color made.


Raton's story was well worked out, maybe more so than Dallas, which has good scenes, but otherwise wanders. Morgan unwisely marries Pat Neal, who has the more-or-less Stanwyck part in which she'll come to same sticky end. Aspects of Neal persona typed her quickly for ruthless parts, the expression or voice perhaps, but she'd be poison to men-folk both here and in Bright Leaf, where revenge motivates her to bring down Gary Cooper's tobacco empire. She'd memoir-recall turning down another western before final force to do Raton Pass, which couldn't been much more promising than the one she nixed. Liveliest wire among cast was Steve Cochran in free- killing, land grabber mode. He'd devote most of Warner effort to sidekick heavies; an assist, then traitor, to principal villainy. Edwin L. Marin directed Raton Pass, plus several westerns for Warners with R. Scott, then died within weeks of Raton Pass release. Could be a best thing about Raton is Max Steiner's score, another where "Call Maxie" was means of lending sonic grandeur to hollow horse hooves. Raton Pass is available on DVD from Warner Archive.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

Don't forget Dennis Morgan's appearances on PETTICOAT JUNCTION in 1968 and THE LOVE BOAT in 1980.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

LOVE long looks at obscure pix like this (esp. info about shooting on Dallas sets, etc.) Keep 'em coming!

9:06 PM  

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